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May 26, 2009

Tarpon Getaway

Avoid the crowds; Hit Southwest Florida beaches and sounds for summer fun

To fish snook, many of which may be undersized, O'Bannon goes light. He uses Quantum Cabo spinning outfits spooled with 6- to 10-pound-test braid and ties on 3 feet of 25- to 40-pound leader and a 2/0 circle hook. He moves up to stouter Quantum Boca rods for tarpon with Cabo reels, 30- to 40-pound braid, tapered leaders of 50- and 80-pound-test and a 5/0 Owner J hook.

As the gray morning brightened, O'Bannon motored to the end of the south jetty at Captiva Pass and dropped his trolling motor to hold position just off the rocks. He and Yellowfin Yachts' vice president Kevin Barker tossed liveys to several snook that they could see were terrorizing a small ball of tiny whitebaits. Once the anglers' much larger offerings smacked the water, the snook pounced like ravenous pack dogs.

The anglers each released back-to-back snooklets measuring up to about 18 inches. Then Barker's bait disappeared in a whirlpool of white water as a 33-incher engulfed the hook. As the boat drifted away from the rocks, Barker fought the snook to a standstill boat-side.

O'Bannon lipped the fish and supported its body horizontally with his left hand. The fish's head appeared almost translucent and its body light silver due to the clear blue-green water and white-sand bottom. Because all snook must be released during summer off-season months, O'Bannon slid the fish into the water. When they motored back into position, the bite turned off.

While snook certainly sweeten the pot for summer beach fishing, our  primary quarry remained silver kings. We motored along the beach south of the pass, looking for tarpon moving  in with the tide, swimming toward  the edge of the channel or along the shore chasing bait. We drifted the pass to intercept fish coming into Pine Island Sound.

Seeing little that stirred him to trust the area, O'Bannon withdrew to the sound. In the calmer water, stealth becomes all the more important. With no other boats around, O'Bannon sunk the Power-Pole into the sand and set out liveys under popping corks to keep the baits out of the grass.

No Noise
Outside of Boca Grande Pass, whether in the sound or along the beaches, tarpon fishing becomes a  different game, according to Dr. Aaron Adams, the director of operations and research for the not-for-profit Bonefish & Tarpon Trust ( and a Pine Island resident. In the deep pass, which drops to 70 feet in places, tarpon often hold near the bottom, so boat noise makes little difference. But in the 5- to 8-foot-deep waters of the estuary and beaches, boat noise can turn off the tarpon bite and ruin the day.

In shallow waters, stealth is key. To avoid shutting down the bite and to show respect for other anglers, Adams recommends these simple rules:

? When under way, always give a wide berth - at least several hundred yards - to any boat with anglers actively tarpon fishing. The boat may be idling or stopped with anglers looking for tarpon; the crew may be tracking a school or actively casting.

? Don't run your outboard motor where people are fishing for tarpon or tarpon have been spotted. A running outboard, even at idle, shuts off the bite and may push the fish to other locations. When you have the option to run a trolling motor or pole, choose the pole. The quieter your presence, the closer the tarpon will come to the boat and the better chance you have that one will eat a fly, lure or bait.

? If you see fish moving along the beach or another pathway, don't cut off another boat that may be waiting on these fish. Take a position well clear of other boats and wait for the tarpon to move toward your location.

? If you're near another boat that hooks a fish, stay clear of the line. If necessary, move out of the way and then back to the area holding fish once the angler and boat are clear.